The Jewish extremist who confessed to the firebombing murder of a Palestinian family last July claims in a newly released audio recording that he was tortured into the confession.
Among the methods utilized by the Shin Bet security service alleged by Amiram Ben-Uliel in the recording are beatings, as well as psychological pressure, including threats and forcing him to listen to women singing.
Ben-Uliel, 21, of Jerusalem, along with an unnamed minor, were indicted in early January in the July 31, 2015, firebomb attack on the home of the Dawabsha family in the West Bank village of Duma, which led to the immediate death of toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha and the deaths weeks later of parents Riham and Saad. Five-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha, Ali’s brother, remains hospitalized in Israel and faces a long rehabilitation. Ben-Uliel was indicted for murder; the minor, who is not alleged to have directly participated in the fire-bombing, was charged as an accomplice.
The indictments marked a key breakthrough in the case, which shocked Israelis and led to unprecedented measures against Jewish terror suspects, including a cabinet vote to extend to Israeli citizens counterterrorism practices such as detention without trial.
In the new recording, broadcast Sunday evening by Channel 2 News, Ben-Uliel insists the testimony he gave his Shin Bet interrogators — in which he confessed to the crime — was false, and was only meant to bring to an end the emotional and physical abuse he says he experienced during the interrogation.
After his arrest on December 1 of last year, “they interrogated me, interrogated me. But I didn’t cooperate,” he said in the recording from jail.
The channel did not say when or where the recording was made or how it was obtained.
In the recording, Ben-Uliel told of being made to sit with his back at a 45-degree angle for long periods, as well as “threats, shouts, screams, beatings, slaps.”
He said eventually it got to him and he said, “‘I’ll make something up for them so they’ll release me,’ and I said to them, ‘I’ll talk, I’ll talk.’
“I started making stuff up. A whole story, how I went and prepared and planned,” he said in the recording. “I told them I planned it with [name], and I met with him, we carried out reconnaissance and all sorts of things. Not exactly, but all sorts of things I understood from them [the interrogators],” he recalled.
He also said that during the questioning he was cuffed with his hands behind his back and was told he no longer had a right to silence.
“One grabbed me by the shirt and said, ‘I’m going to be your nightmare. We’re going to drink your blood from your ears.’ I don’t know what else,” he said.
The alleged abuses came after the Shin Bet obtained approval from then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein to classify Ben-Uliel as a “ticking bomb,” allowing them to use certain kinds of torture on the grounds that authorities believed new attacks were being planned.
The use of torture was alleged by those close to Ben-Uliel in December, and sparked several days of protests, some of which turned violent in Jerusalem and elsewhere, by dozens of demonstrators.
Politicians across almost the full political spectrum backed the Shin Bet, which they said was acting according to the law, though Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked reportedly met the family of one Jewish terror suspect who alleged torture.
Ben-Uliel’s testimony marks the likely central argument of the defense in his trial: His confession was inadmissible as it was obtained by torture.
“It’s clear the confession of my client for the Duma act is meaningless,” Ben-Uliel’s attorney Itamar Ben Gvir — himself a radical Jewish activist — told Channel 2.
Another attorney representing Ben-Uliel, Yoram Sheftel, accused the Shin Bet of criminal behavior.
The torture ended once the special counterterrorism rules were lifted and Ben-Uliel was allowed to see his attorney Ben Gvir.
“He told me, ‘Listen, the torture is over, stop being afraid of them, start telling them the truth. Tell them you didn’t do anything,'” Ben-Uliel recalled. “And I told them the whole truth, that I didn’t do anything, that I have no connection to this. They slandered me. Everything they got out of me was by force. I told them in several interrogations that I want to retract my confession. I started to tell them why I’m retracting my confession.”
Due to the sensitive nature of the case and the decision of the Lod District Court to hear the case behind closed doors, the Shin Bet is not permitted to comment publicly on the testimony.
The agency told Channel 2 in a statement that “the interrogation of the individual in question was carried out according to the stipulations of the law, and under the supervision and constant oversight of all relevant authorities,” the statement concluded.
A source close to the investigation said Ben-Uliel’s testimony and reenactment at the scene of the crime included a great many details that were never made public, and could only have been known to those who were there, according to Channel 2.
Ben-Uliel said in the recording he maintained his silence at first for several weeks, during which time the investigators resorted to psychological pressure.
“When they learned that I try not to listen to women’s singing” — in keeping with certain Jewish religious rulings that forbid it for men — “they decided to turn on the radio, and put on women singing. I asked them to turn it off. They refused. I stood up to turn it off. They jumped me, hit me, tied my hands and legs. Put pressure on painful places, hit me a bit,” he recounted.
He added that they also brought in a female interrogator to sing to him.
In the recording, which lasted several minutes, Ben-Uliel recalled that, once he said he was willing to talk, their first question sought the name of any accomplices.
“They picked me up. I said to them, ‘I, I did Duma.’ They said, ‘Yes, great. Tell us exactly who was with you.’ First thing they asked me who was with me. I said, ‘No one.'”